Saint Ignatius of Loyola offered us these words of wisdom, which seem particularly relevant as we come closer to the season of Lent: “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.” Christian stewards are, by nature, reformers. We attempt to live our lives in a way that makes the world a better place. We open our hearts to the Gospel. We contribute to charities that we believe in. We build up our Catholic parishes so that they might shine the light of truth into our weary world. We work to alleviate poverty and injustice. We witness to Christ’s healing presence in our homes and places of work. Many of us work in schools, parishes, and diocesan offices where we bring a passion for reforming our world. Christian stewards who work in a secular environment endeavor to bring Christian values into the marketplace.
Lent doesn’t ask us to stop any of these efforts. But, as we listen to Saint John the Baptist in the Gospel, “the voice of one who cries in the desert” proclaiming the beginning of Lent, we know that the Church in her wisdom has given us a compelling season to look inward, to seek quiet time in our own desert. Saint Ignatius, Saint John the Baptist, and the season of Lent remind us that trying to change the world will not work if we don’t first of all change ourselves. Lent points the way to what really matters: Christ. We are asked to experience Him who is the reason for our endeavors, our passion and our work in this world.
The Church provides some traditional guidelines: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Saint John the Baptist provides a challenge: “Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same” (Luke3:11). How we integrate these three guidelines into Lent’s forty days is a personal decision, but one which should take us on a journey into our own hearts, where we ask ourselves why we labor, what our work and our life really mean, to whom we and our life’s work really belong.